IT IS clear that the pandemic has exacerbated equality problems that already existed in many areas, meaning that levelling up is arguably even more important in those places, which construction has a key part in driving. With this in mind, levelling up cannot be on the back burner for the newly appointed Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and her new cabinet office. Adrian Ceney, partner at leading independent property, construction and infrastructure consultancy Pick Everard, discusses the need to keep long-term challenges on levelling up and our journey to net zero front and centre.
The UK is relatively small geographically, yet highly populated and very diverse concurrently, especially when it comes to economics with productivity and GDP still being very focussed in the south-east.
LOCALISATION, ADAPTATION AND RATIONALISATION
Throughout the country, lots of town centres have suffered through the pandemic due to low footfall – and now thanks to changing working practices, that footfall is not back at pre-pandemic levels. The drivers for bringing people into some towns have altered – meaning that more careful investment is needed in high streets. And business cases put forward today may need to look very different to pre-2020 to reflect the new normal – for example transportation patterns and requirements have changed, and thus infrastructure requirements along with them.
Keeping a focus on levelling up creates opportunities for organisations to work together to deliver better for communities – with consultants like Pick Everard and the wider supply chain supporting local authorities and council bodies with the schemes they need to make a difference. And indeed, we can also be involved in their applications for funding packages, making sure they have the insight and information included in their bids to secure much-needed funds.
Elsewhere, clients will be examining their assets and where they might need adapting to suit new ways of operating. This is particularly prevalent across the office sector, with rises in hybrid working meaning that many organisations have a reduced need for large physical spaces, but a greater demand for high-quality and flexibility. Meanwhile, in the public sector, lots of organisations are scrutinising and rationalising their estates to ensure they are managing their budgets – which in some cases are extremely tight – as best they can.
As consultants, we make sure that valuable budgets – whether from allocated funds or not – are spent in the most effective way possible for any client. This goes beyond simple build costs to working on a whole-life cost basis – particularly as the country is facing inflation drive by rising energy prices, which impacts everything from operational overheads to material costs, which continue to rise thanks to inflated manufacturing costs.
INVESTING IN THE LONGER-TERM
In recent years, there has been a large effort to link London and the south-east with the rest of the country – largely focusing on the West Midlands – to bring job markets closer together in a time sense. These longer-term projects – particularly infrastructure-based ones – are going to have a really important role to play in the future.
This does not just mean the finished developments will have that role to play. Large-scale infrastructure schemes are highly beneficial for the construction industry and its related sectors, providing a degree of stability over a longer period of time.
They also have strong social value implications, with the benefits during the development and building process being also very valid to the end result. Whether it’s direct employment for people building the scheme, investment in training and skills, local spend on supply chains, materials and labour, or connecting people with more opportunities when complete, these large schemes allow project teams to collaborate to deliver the highest value possible to a client, end users and the local community.
With large-scale operations comes even bigger opportunity to create change – social value is a hugely important part of this, allowing us to capture both quantitative outcomes, but also the qualitative ones that play into levelling up goals too.
NET ZERO MUST BE AN ATTITUDE
Our journey to net zero must also remain a key driver for us as an industry – but again this means working closely with clients on cost versus value elements, examining and advising clients on whole-life cost.
A recent revision of the government’s Construction Playbook reflects this, with updates providing practical resources aimed at helping public sector clients and the sector at large manage carbon reporting and improve the environmental performance of projects and programmes. The revision also emphasises the importance of digital and offsite manufacturing technologies, which can go a long way in shortening on site programmes, feeding into further reduced carbon footprints.
With the built environment creating a significant portion of the UK’s carbon output, consultants have a responsibility to embed sustainability at the heart of schemes. Sustainability is much more than a design function, and early engagement on projects positions us to advise on strategic sustainability elements – including a shift change when it comes to processes and practices.
So, while the government is undergoing another round of leadership changes, we must as an industry keep our aims and goals firmly in the crosshairs to achieve better together.